Authors: Mary Jane Clark
To Have and to Kill
Mary Jane Clark
For Doris Boland Behrends, my mother,
who helped me make my first cake.
And for those affected by Fragile X Syndrome.
It looks as if treatment is coming . . . soon.
e took her hand and squeezed it in the darkness. She held on tight as the giant dome above them filled with bright stars, flaring, exploding, and spraying the sky with colors. Listening to the explanation of what the heavenly bodies meant to mankind, the couple felt the stars rushing past them faster and faster, as if they themselves were careening through the Milky Way.
He leaned over and whispered close to her ear: “Make a wish on one of those stars.”
She closed her eyes and did as she was told.
When the planetarium show was over, she started to get up from her seat. “That was fantastic,” she said. “There was so much of that I didn’t know. I sometimes forget that the sun is a star and that, without it, we wouldn’t be alive.” She gently pulled at him to get up.
“Wait a minute,” he said. “Sit down again.”
Usually, as one group filed out of the theater, the next filed in. He had deliberately chosen the last show of the day so they would be left unrushed and alone.
“I made a wish on one of those stars, too,” he said. “I wished that you’d say yes.”
She looked at him, her eyes widening.
“I’m asking you to marry me, sweetheart,” he said, taking both of her hands in his. “I couldn’t think of a better place to ask you than here among the stars where you belong.”
She inhaled deeply, pausing for just a moment as she remembered the disturbing letter hidden at the back of her desk drawer.
His eyes searched her face. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she answered, trying to ignore her apprehension. “Of course I’ll marry you. Yes. Yes. Yes.”
Tears welling up in her eyes, she threw her arms around his neck and they held on tight to each other.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” he said, pulling back and reaching into his coat pocket. He took out a little red box and opened it. Inside was a large, clear diamond solitaire set in platinum.
Her left hand trembled as she held it out and he slipped the ring on her finger. This is what she had wanted, what she had hoped would happen. But as she kissed him with joy, something else was nagging at her, leaving her feeling unsettled. For some reason, a portion of the star show they had just seen was repeating itself in her mind. What the narrator said had hit a nerve somewhere deep inside her and somehow felt like a warning.
She smiled at her fiancé but shivered as she recalled what she had just learned. Explosions ended some stars’ cosmic lives. There were stars that burned hot, lived fast, and died young.
Sunday, November 28 . . . Twenty-six days until the wedding
other and daughter worked, side by side, in the kitchen of The Icing on the Cupcake. Piper Donovan mixed buttercream while her mother poured smooth batter into round baking pans. The front of the store was closed, the shelves emptied of the rolls, Danishes, and coffee cakes eagerly purchased by the morning’s many customers. The ever-present aroma of sweet delights wafted throughout the building.
With her long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, Piper stood at the table laden with bricks of butter, cartons of eggs, and bags of flour and sugar. She picked up a flower nail—a thin, two-inch-long metal rod with a small, round platform affixed to the end—and secured a square of parchment paper to it. Holding the flower nail in one hand, she applied firm and steady pressure to the plump bag she held with the other. Piper concentrated on the stream of stiff buttercream icing that oozed out from the piping tip and fashioned it into an acorn shape on top of the parchment. Then, picking up another decorating bag, with a different tip, she piped a wide strip as she turned the nail, cloaking the top of the acorn completely. Piper slowly spun the nail, making longer petals that overlapped again and again. When she reached the bottom, she had created a perfect yellow rose.
She repeated the process over and over, gently sliding the parchment squares with the finished roses onto baking sheets before storing them in the refrigerator.
“You’ve gotten so good at it, Piper,” said her mother as she leaned forward to get a closer look at the flowers.
Piper shrugged and smiled mischievously. “And all those years you complained I never paid attention to you,” she said.
“I really appreciate you taking the time to do this, honey,” said Terri Donovan. “It’s getting so I can’t keep up with everything. I hated to do it, but I even had to turn down three wedding cake orders. Having these flowers made in advance will really help me at the end of the week when I have to make the cake I did promise to do.”
“It’s no big deal. I had to come out again anyway with more of my stuff. Might as well do these while I’m here.”
a big deal if my mother’s turning down wedding cake orders,
“Do you have much more to bring back?” asked Terri as she sifted confectioners’ sugar into a mixing bowl.
“A few more cartons and the rug,” said Piper, squeezing out a final delicate yellow flower. “I sold pretty much all the furniture and the kitchen things to the guy who is taking over my apartment.”
“Good,” said Terri. “None of it owes you anything. We found most of it at tag sales and, when the time comes for you to get another place, we’ll be able to find more.”
As she brought the decorating utensils to the sink and began washing them, Piper was thinking about getting back to the city and the audition she had in the morning.
Terri reached out and touched her daughter’s arm. “It’s going to be great having you back home, Piper,” she said softly.
As Terri spoke, her eyes were trained over Piper’s shoulder.
Piper turned around to see whom her mother was looking at. There was nobody else in the kitchen. “What are you looking at, Mom?”
“I’m looking at
“Uh, no. No, you’re not. You were looking at something behind me.”
“I was not,” insisted Terri. She nodded in the direction of the cleaned piping tips. “Make sure you put everything back exactly where you found it.”
“Got it, Mom.”
Strange. Was her mother losing it? Usually she was pretty laid-back, but recently she had become almost maniacal about having everything in its place. And there were other things Piper had noticed. On Thanksgiving, her mother missed a few of the glasses when she poured the apple cider. She had ruined the gravy, stirring in confectioners’ sugar instead of flour. And when a customer handed Terri a $10 bill this morning, she pulled change for $20 from the register. Thank goodness they had honest customers.
Piper hadn’t really thought much about each individual event, but now, as she concentrated on the decorating, she realized something was up. “Mom, is something wrong?” she asked gently.
Piper observed that her mother’s jaw tightened as she shook her head.
“No, nothing’s wrong, Piper. Just too much to do and not enough time to do it. I guess I’m a little tense, and when you’re tense, you make mistakes.”
Piper didn’t buy it, but she kept silent. She knew she was on the brink of having to set major boundaries with her parents about her own privacy. So it was only fair that she gave her mother hers.
As she carefully arranged the piping tips in their container, Piper knew that, soon enough, she would figure out what was going on with her mother. When you lived in the same house with someone, there was no place to hide.
Unfortunately, that worked both ways.